Local do-it-yourself artists


January 21, 2005


Never at a shortage for inspired Do-It-Yourself releases by aspiring local musicians, Chicago continues to attract or produce dozens of worthy contenders every year.

Since this column last looked at the recent crop of underground releases in late July, two mail bins have piled high to overflowing with CD submissions. This week and next, I’ll take a look at some of the best self-released music from recent months.

As always, I’ll note that I’m always happy to listen to local music—send it care of the Sun-Times, 350 N. Orleans, Chicago IL 60654—and sooner or later, I audition at least a few minutes of everything that crosses my desk. But it may take a while to wade through the pile, and not every submission gets written up; the next two columns give well-deserved props to 22 discs, but that’s only a tenth of what comes in every few weeks.

Wilke Surprise, “Wilke Surprise” EP (www.wilkesurprise.com)

Named for brothers Matt and Sean Wilke, this quartet is a meat-and-potatoes Midwestern punk band whose debut EP, recorded by Steve Albini with his famous no-frills crunch, is distinguished by its energetic bashing and memorable melodies, especially on the tunes “Legacy” and “One in a Million.” If the band kicks half as hard on stage as it does on disc, you might be carrying your head home under your arm at the end of the night. The group celebrates the release of this EP tonight at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont; call (773) 281-4444.

Crap Engine, “Crap Engine” (www.crapengine.com)

You have to be intrigued by a band with a name like this—or at least I was—but the quartet’s straight-forward, vaguely Replacements-inspired Midwestern punk is a bit of a let-down; only a third of the 15 tracks stand up to repeated spins—memo to young bands: Better to release a killer EP than a mediocre album—and the group tries a little to hard to sound drunk and disorderly in the venerated Replacements tradition. Like I said, it’s a great name, though.

Terminal Bliss, “The Art of Seduction” (www.terminalbliss.com)

Speaking of names that tell a story, you know that a group with a moniker like this [ital] has [ital] to be a goth-influenced electronic dance combo. On its third indie release since 1999, Terminal Bliss charts a synth-heavy course somewhere between the Cure and Depeche Mode, with gloriously heavy vibes prevailing. The band performs at Metro, 3730 N. Clark, on Wednesday [JAN. 26]; call (773) 549-4140.

Electric, “We Are Flying Machines” (www.electrictheband.com)

There’s a strong early ’90s shoegazer influence a la My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive—running through the 11 mellow, melodic and oh-so-ethereal songs on this trio’s first full album, which was impressively recorded at Wall to Wall Studios. The group creates a delightful swirl of distorted sounds that suck you in like a tsunami’s undertow, but its lyrics remain surprisingly clear-eyed; “We’ve been hypnotized/Force-fed all these lies,” bassist John Aselin sings on “Turnaround.” The group performs at Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, at 8 p.m. on Tuesday [JAN. 25].

18 Speed Tranny, “Haulin’ Ass” (www.18speedtranny.com)

Straddling a line between acid rock and Motorhead-style speed-metal, this suburban trio is all about forward propulsion and the hard-rockin’ groove. “Haulin’ Ass” follows an earlier album and an EP, both of which garnered praise from the stoner-rock underground, and it boasts 11 originals that keep you hummin’ as you’re banging your head, in addition to a unique cover of “Born Under a Bad Sign.” The band performs at Penny Road Pub, 28 W. 705 Penny Rd. in Barrington, at 9 p.m. on Feb. 4; call (847) 428-0562.

Chokehold, self-titled EP (www.chokehold.net)

While we’re in head-banging mode, I have to give a shout-out to this impressive three-song demo by a theatrical, goth-inflicted speed-metal quartet that comes complete with its own motto (“Chokehold—The Experience Will Leave Your Breathless!”) and a flamboyant frontwoman, C.J. Chokehold, who bills herself as “the Goddess of Power Metal.” Tracks such as “Freak” and “Nemesis” are a bit goofy, but then who says you can’t smile while you rock out—or that you need the Darkness to do it?

The Del Psychos, “The Fajita Monologues” (www.delpsychos.com)

One of the last recordings from the late, lamented Uberstudio, this brilliantly titled debut album is the brainchild of several local rock veterans (including Reader film critic and power-pop maestro J.R. Jones and  virtuosic bassist-about-town Chris Linster), and its nine tracks glisten with impressive six-string chops and strong vocal harmonies while veering from gonzo surf (“Theme from ‘Llama Patrol’”) to lilting psychedelic pop (“Plastic World”) to tributes to the buoyant early ’60s mod sound (“I Think Out Loud”). A potent prize for pop people.

Nguzo, “Love is Revolution…” (www.nguzo.com)

“My voice is unique and under-represented in today’s market of thugs, drugs and monotonous duds,” poet, songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Nguzo boasts. “I sing about life, love and everything in between without remorse.” While this 11-track album evokes generic Ziggy Marley or a bad male Sade at times, the best moments (“Dreality,” “Lust in Translation”) offer a seductive and relatively unique mix of soul, Carribean, hip-hop and quiet storm influences with an inspiringly positive, vaguely New Age message.

Trump Tight (TNT), “So Fly” CD single (Trump Tight Records)

Gearing up to release a full album called “The Program” to follow their earlier EP “The Epilogue,” this trio of South Side emcees spent the last few months of 2004 working this three-song single in order to prime the pump. The standout is the title track, which builds on a winning old-school soul groove in the tradition of Kanye West’s proven formula while Da King, Uno C and Urban Po pay homage to their idea of an ideal honey with deft rhymes and funny, good-natured cracks that never stoop to sexist pandering.

Quasar Wut-Wut, “Taro Sound” (Glorious Noise)

“Imagine Frank Zappa hosting an episode of ‘The Muppet Show’ if Animal was a klezmer drummer,” this Chicago-via-Detroit quartet asks in the press release accompanying its third album, but the chaos created by that odd scenario only hints at the often annoyingly schizophrenic, occasionally brilliantly inspired sonic mess of these 14 tracks. The group shift instruments—including vibes, glockenspiel, mandolin, accordion, and jaws harp—almost as often as it trades time signatures. In small doses, including the prime cuts “China Fibberous” and “Enola Gay,” the musical mischief is pretty entertaining, but listening to the whole disc at once makes me seasick. For more info, visit www.quasarwutwut.com.